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Home > Dogs > What Is Barn Hunt for Dogs? Info & How to Get Started

What Is Barn Hunt for Dogs? Info & How to Get Started

spaniel dog searching for rats hidden in tubes in the hay

Different dog breeds were originally developed for a wide variety of purposes. Some were bred for companionship, others for sport, some for work, and some for hunting. Certain breeds, like the Rat Terrier, were developed specifically to hunt rats.

These dogs were commonly put to work on farms to protect grain from hungry rats, and, in the early 20th century, were one of the dogs most commonly found on American farms. In modern times, these rat-hunting skills are put to the test in an event called “Barn Hunt”.

Don’t worry—dogs participating in a Barn Hunt event do not actually kill any rats—they simply have to locate them to win points. The welfare of the rats involved is taken very seriously, so measures are taken to ensure they are not harmed in any way.

Furthermore, this isn’t purely an event for breeds developed as rat hunters. Any dog capable of fitting through a certain size of tunnel is welcome to participate, including mixed breeds. In this post, we’ll explain exactly how Barn Hunt works and answer all your burning questions about this unique event.


How Does It Work?

For Barn Hunt to happen, bales of hay are set up to form an obstacle course that dogs and their owner must navigate. Hidden in various locations on this obstacle course are rats inside aerated tubes that participating dogs must locate. The goal of Barn Hunt is that a dog and their owner work together to locate a specific number of rats in a certain amount of time.

To really challenge the dog’s hunting skills, some of the tubes on the course are empty or filled with bedding that smells like rats. When the dog locates a rat, the handler has to communicate the find to a judge. The dogs are judged on their instinct, sense of smell, agility, and how nimble they are.

There are different difficulty levels in Barn Hunt and titles you and your dog can win, beginning with Novice level (more on this below). Participating dogs have to be able to fit through a tunnel measuring 18 inches wide. They also must be at least 6 months old to participate, but as long as these criteria are met, any dog, whether purebred or mixed, can take part.

schnauzer dog checking out a tube with a rat in it
Image By: GoDog Photo

What Are the Different Barn Hunt Levels?

Barn Hunt levels vary in difficulty in terms of how many rats a dog must find, how many bales are on the course, how high the bales are stacked, how difficult it is to get through the tunnel, and how much time the dog has to complete the course. Courses higher than Instinct level can vary in terms of setup. Here’s a breakdown of the different levels and what you can expect in each one:


At this level, dogs must locate only one rat, which is hidden inside one of three tubes. The time limit for this level is 60 seconds. Instinct is carried out in an open space.

Australian Shepherd dog checking out the straw searching for a rat in a tube
Image By: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock


A Novice course typically requires that a dog navigate between 20 and 30 hay bales. Like in the Instinct level, the dog only has to find one rat out of three tubes, however, climbing is required, and the dog must go through a straight tunnel. The time limit is 2 minutes.


The Open course has a lot in common with the Novice course, but the tunnel is more difficult with a 190-degree turn and there are four tubes with two rats to find. The time limit is 2 minutes and 30 seconds.


In this course, there are more bales to navigate—between 35 and 60. There are four rats to find out of 8 tubes and a more difficult tunnel to navigate. The Senior course tunnel has a few 90-degree turns. The time limit is 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

Border Collie dog checking the straw for a rat during a hunt game
Image By: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock


In Master level, there are at least 50 hay bales and eight tubes, but the number of rats to find can range between one and five. The tunnels turn at 90 degrees, and the turns range from two to five. The time limit is 4 minutes and 30 seconds.


Barn Hunt Titles

According to the American Kennel Club, the possible Barn Hunt titles you and your dog can win are as follows:

  • Novice Barn Hunt
  • Open Barn Hunt
  • Senior Barn Hunt
  • Master Barn Hunt
  • Barn Hunt Champion
  • Crazy 8s Bronze
  • Crazy 8s Silver
  • Crazy 8s Gold
  • Crazy 8s Platinum

How to Get Started in Barn Hunt

If you’re a Barn Hunt beginner in the U.S., the Barn Hunt Association (BHA) is one of your best resources. Here, you can access up-to-date competitor, club, and judge rulebooks, a list of upcoming events, and the full list of Barn Hunt clubs in the U.S. Once you’ve chosen a club, you can either visit their website for more information or contact the club to find out how to get started.

Barn Hunt events seem to be really increasing in popularity, so they take place quite often and all over the U.S. If you’re a bit nervous about getting started, Barn Hunt seems to be a pretty friendly sport that welcomes spectators. This way, you can gauge whether Barn Hunt is something you could really get stuck into.

If you’re outside the U.S., we recommend checking official Barn Hunt organizations or associations in your country (like Barn Hunt UK) or social media groups that share information on Barn Hunt events.

jack russell terrier dog looking out of a barn
Image By: thka, Shutterstock

Advantages of Barn Hunt

Those who take part in Barn Hunt are clearly very enthusiastic about the sport. There seem to be many advantages of taking part in Barn Hunt events for both dogs and dog owners, including:

  • Physical and mental stimulation for the dog
  • Bond-building between the dog and handler
  • The opportunity for dogs to hone their scent skills and instincts
  • Improved confidence
  • The opportunity for dog and Barn Hunt enthusiasts to socialize
  • Last but certainly not least, meeting plenty of adorable dogs and rats

Disadvantages of Barn Hunt

There aren’t any real disadvantages to taking part in Barn Hunt. The main issue people have with the sport is that they’re concerned for the welfare of the rats involved. According to the Barn Hunt Association, the welfare of the rats is taken very seriously and there are guidelines in place for making sure they’re properly taken care of. Moreover, the Barn Hunt rats are much-loved pets.

The tubes in which the rats are inserted are well-ventilated, big enough for them to be able to move and turn around inside and are made of material that prevents dogs from biting into or crushing them. The BHA also mentions that rats feel very safe in small and dark spaces and that many spend their time in the tubes grooming themselves or snoozing. When not taking part in the event, rats are placed in a quiet area where they can rest.

Welsh Terrier hunting dog lying down in a vintage barn
Image By: MaCross-Photography, Shutterstock


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is There a Registration Fee for Barn Hunt?

Yes, but it’s not a big one. According to the BHA, there is a $30 lifetime registration fee.

How Do I Register My Dog in Barn Hunt?

If you’re in the U.S., you can register your dog online on the Barn Hunt Association’s website. You’ll need to create an account to register your dog. If you’re in another country, refer to your country’s official Barn Hunt website to find out how to register.

Do Dogs Need a Barn Hunt Registration Number for a Fun Test?

No, you don’t need to provide a registration number to take part in Barn Hunt fun tests, clinics, or training events. You only need a registration number for licensed trials.

Does the AKC Recognize Barn Hunt Titles?

Yes. If your dog is AKC-registered, you can get Barn Hunt titles added to their record.



From our research, one thing is very clear—Barn Hunt is getting more and more popular. Though some worry about the safety of the rats, the BHA maintains that Barn Hunt is a very safe sport that takes animal welfare seriously. It also maintains that Barn Hunt would never put rats at risk of physical danger or mental distress.

Barn Hunt also provides an opportunity for dogs and their owners to work together, communicate, and bond. It also gives both dogs and their handlers a sense of confidence and achievement. If you’re thinking of getting started with Barn Hunt or even just want to watch from the sidelines, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local Barn Hunt club.


Featured  Image Credit: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock

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